But more about that in a moment.
A local businessman and some cohorts are making a bid to open a slots casino just a short distance from the Gettysburg battlefield, less than a mile from the boundary of the Gettysburg National Military Park, in fact.
On Nov. 16, the state gaming commission will hold a four-hour hearing on the Mason-Dixon Resort & Casino application. It should be interesting.
In 2005, the same businessman tried to put a much larger casino at a different spot, not quite as close to the battlefield.
Both times, people for and against the casino project engaged in a lot of heated discussion. Well, not all of it is worthy of qualified discussion.
That time, the gaming commission, nixed the idea. For the record, I hope the board gives a thumbs-down on this one, too.
In 2005, as now, we had the “quality-of-lifers” who thought, variously, that a casino anywhere near Gettysburg’s hallowed ground was a slap in the face to the memory of those who fought and suffered here, as well as to the memory of The Gettysburg Address, delivered here five months after the battle.
In that crowd you can count some of the local businesses, whose owners see a casino pulling a significant chunk of their business – and their employees – away.
On the other side are the “we need good jobs” crowd, who believe the developers claim that the casino is going to bring heaps of good, well-paying jobs to the area. They are right about that; we do need good jobs here. But it is doubtful that they will find “good” jobs at a casino, especially at a casino that will be but one of a number of them peppering the Mid-Atlantic within a few hours’ drive.
The Patriot-News in Harrisburg recently reported that gambling bus tours from the mid state to Atlantic City, for example, have dropped about 70 percent since Pennsylvania legalized slots about seven years ago. Only a certain percentage of the population wants to gamble. The more casinos that spring into being, the sparser will be the crowds. And the more intense the competition between them will be.
As for the historic and emotional significance of Gettysburg, that is hard to quantify, impossible to peg a dollar value to. Yes, roughly two million visitors a year to the Gettysburg battlefield imply a sense of ownership of what the place is that extends far beyond local boundaries.
There has been a world-wide outcry against the location of a casino near the famous battlefield, but some born and raised in the area think the global embrace of Gettysburg is secondary to their own. A local businessman stood up at a National Park Service meeting some years back and said “But it’s OUR history.” A few locals nodded.
The feeling is understandable, but, wrong. Gettysburg’s hallowed ground and Lincoln’s uttered words and the meaning they carry recognize no border or even time limits. What happened in Gettysburg belongs to humanity everywhere.
In any case, the economic picture painted by the would-be casino developer seems a bit too rosy to be true.
A report prepared by Michael Siegel of Public and Environmental Finance Associates of Washington, D.C., who has more than 30 years experience in public and environmental finance and impact analysis, states the Mason-Dixon folks’ claim of 375 full-time-equivalent jobs does not specify that “this is actually a mix of 1,087 full and part-time jobs.”
Siegel’s report pegs the average salary at the casino at $17,061 per year, indicating that most of the positions will be part-time, not full-time or career positions.
In the interest of full disclosure, that report was commissioned by several preservation groups on behalf of a local anti-casino association of business owners.
Questionable dollar figures and star-spangled emotions aside, I also wonder about something else. What about the people? How will having a casino just down the road affect the good, solid people who built this county?
It brings me back to the church lady.
Allow me to explain. This was a little more than seven years ago. Pennsylvania had just passed a law allowing slot machines. Touted to reduce property taxes, boost employment and, for all I know, clear up acne. So, the newspaper I was working for at the time sent me and a photographer to a Delaware slot parlor.
Let me tell you something. Whatever people say about gambling being “just entertainment,” and no longer considered wrong or sinful, is hooey. Most of the people I interviewed declined to give their names. The ones who did only gave their first names. Given that atmosphere, I guess it wasn’t surprising that having a reporter and photographer running around loose wasn’t going to sit well with the customers. In fact, the photographer had to leave his cameras in the security office, and I was not allowed to take notes.
I talked to a bunch of people, but the church lady was the best.
She sat at one end of a row of slots in a light blue button-up dress and a blue fuzzy cardigan. The bewildering lights glistened on her curly hair and reflected off her rimless bifocals. She looked like somebody who would teach Sunday school and bake a terrific pie.
“I’m not from here,” she said, stuttering nervously. “I just came to play.”
She wouldn’t give her name, or where she was from.
She trembled slightly, feeding tokens to the machine.
Years ago, I said, most of the country thought of gambling as a sin, or at least not the kind of thing decent, hard-working people did. What did she think had changed attitudes to the point that somebody such as herself would feel comfortable coming to a place such as this?
That’s when she knocked me out of the chair.
“No, no, no,” she said. “I don’t want to talk about this!”
I can’t get her face out of my mind. “I don’t want to talk about this!”
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